A turning point in my life was when I ran out of excuses to do more higher education. On reflection, my English literature degree (four years), GDL (one year) and BPTC (one year) amount to a massive waste of time and money. Indeed, if I could do it all again, I wouldn't even go to university.
But perhaps, as a middle class person whose university lecturer parents placed a high value on education, these were just the hoops I was destined to jump through. I just thank God that law schools weren't offering free further courses to their jobless alumni – as BPP announced it is to do last week – when I was graduating...
If I'd been able to avoid the world of work by doing the New York Bar exam or whatever other useless freebie qualification that is being given away by BPP, I'm pretty sure I would have. And in the short term it would have been great. Rather than embracing a hateful new life as a (very surly) paralegal, I'd have been able to keep reality at bay by embracing the status of "masters student".
But then what? Perhaps next year, in its latest bid for a hit of publicity, BPP will introduce a new offer where graduates of its freebie courses who still don't have jobs can sleep in its buildings free of charge until they reach retirement age. Again, that would have suited me fine.
Fortunately, my options ran out, and in part to assuage the pain of this, I began writing about my disappointing experience of the law so far. Through this, to my amazement, I landed a gig interviewing lawyers every week for The Times. And so began a career – in journalism rather than law, as it turned out – that would never have happened if the possibility of further study had remained.
Having a career didn't only lift me out of post-law school gloom, but it has made me happier generally than when I was a student. As the thrusting execs at the helm of BPP well know, it feels good to develop a skill that generates money which you can then use to build a life of your own. Rather than getting bums on seats to fill obscure, apparently unsubscribed courses, they should let their graduates move on.
When I was 16, I received my GCSE results and discovered that I had got a B in maths. I was absolutely delighted, given that I was expecting something more like an F. But it still represented a narrowing of options, with my B acting as confirmation that I was destined to do something wordy with my life. So I decided to do law (a choice vindicated by the nightmares about long division that I still have). Why not? Might get me a job (this made more sense in 2005). Perfect. I got an offer from UCL, and off I went...
About half way through my first year, I started to wonder if I'd made a dreadful mistake, but I stuck at it. Happily, things changed as soon as I started actually having some choice over what modules I could study.
Nevertheless, it had become pretty clear by then that legal practice wasn't for me; I like finding out about things for their own sake, and, as I discovered during work experience, I'm not good with form-filling. I still might change my mind, though, and it's good to know that I can still jump straight onto the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
Until last week's Legal Cheek podcast I'd always taken the options I still have about my long term future for granted. But an observation made by our guest, Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) graduate Alex Pritchard-Jones, made me see how things could have been different if I'd come to law later. "If you've done something else and then the GDL," said Alex, "and then you fail to become a lawyer...well [you can't]. You have to go all the way if you convert."
I agree with Alex in that I would feel a much greater pressure to become a lawyer if I'd taken the arts-degree-followed-by-GDL route. In that sense, people with LLBs have a bit of a leg up. They save themselves a year of legal education, and in doing so they're allowed a bigger range of options. If I never become a lawyer having done a law degree, there's no harm done. But if I were to never become a lawyer after having done the GDL and LPC/ Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), I'd be bordering on bankruptcy with a qualification that's almost worthless...
Tom Webb is Legal Cheek's editorial assistant and a masters journalism student at City University.
Amid all the debate about rising Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) fees and the new pricier-than-expected Bar aptitude test, two obvious points keep being ignored. 1) There has always been a Bar aptitude test (it's called the Inns of Court scholarship application process) – and 2) training to be a barrister is free for those who pass it (via a full Inns of Court scholarship)...
There are no statistics on the correlation between Inns awards (which total almost £5m annually) and pupillages, but anyone who has done the BPTC knows the reality: fail to get a scholarship and chances are that you're career as a "barrister" will be limited to eating a few fancy Inns of Court dinners.
Oddly, despite figuring highly in the minds of chambers pupillage committees, this extremely valuable piece of information remains something of a secret among students at the LLB and GDL stages. OK, so it's hinted at via the regular pronouncements about the tricky nature of gaining pupillage, but I've never heard it said – or seen it written – directly.
So, for the record: don't do the BPTC unless you get an Inns of Court scholarship.
Wouldn't a campaign to more widely disseminate this message be more effective than schlepping about with an expensive Bar aptitude test that doesn't seem to satisfy anyone?
Forget the rights and wrongs of the decision by two Tooks' barristers to start a company charging wannabes for pupillage application advice from their head of chambers, Michael Mansfield QC. And consider how it reflects on the wider criminal Bar...
In the good old days, when publicly funded legal work was well-remunerated, barristers would never have dreamed of making money off law students. Even if they had no issue with the ethics of for-profit pupillage advice, their time would have been more profitably spent doing legal work.
Now, with fees for junior criminal barristers dipping below minimum wage levels, that's no longer true. Yet applications for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) are at their highest for years.
In this week's podcast, College of Law GDL student Alice Christian – who was one of the first students to tweet about the £186-to-see-Michael-Mansfield event – explains to Legal Cheek trio Lucy Pether, Kevin Poulter and Alex Aldridge why, in spite of everything, she still wants to be a criminal barrister...
This podcast is also available on iTunes.
College of Law GDL student Simeon Klein is tempted to take a risk and be creative in his bid to steal a march on the training contract competition.
A two-minute trawl through law student forums like thestudentroom.co.uk yields ample horror stories of hopefuls applying to 60+ firms to no avail. In such a competitive market, it’s no wonder that law students are constantly being encouraged to take on a myriad of extracurricular activities and snap up any legal work that comes their way.
But does this sort of thing actually get you anywhere when everyone’s doing it?
In comparison to our odd system of legal education – which sprawls haphazardly from the undergraduate law degree to the CILEX apprenticeship option, via the super-condensed GDL, multiple breeds of LPC and the career graveyard that is the BPTC – the US way of doing things is alluringly simple.
In America, you can only study law as a three-year postgraduate degree. At which point you sit a Bar exam. Then you’re a lawyer. The downside is the inflexibility, slow pace and high cost (over £30,000 a year in fees alone at the top US law schools)...
Assorted scenes from week one, term one, of the GDL
And a taster of week one, term three...
Congratulations to Dave Rowntree, the drummer from Blur, who has qualified as a solicitor today. Famous band mates Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and Alex James were said to be reeling with jealousy as the news was reported by Rowntree (pictured below, far right) on Twitter.
"I am happy to say that after 5 years work, I qualify as a solicitor today," tweeted Rowntree this morning. "Thanks very much to everyone who has helped along the way!"
Members of the public also found themselves looking on enviously at Rowntree's success at finally casting off the shackles of life as a rockstar, with one tweeting...
GDL student Anastasia Steal relives the extraordinary day she met Christopher Grey QC, head of Gray's Inn Chambers
As I approached Mr Grey's chambers, I tried to pull myself together. But it was no use.
I shouldn’t even have been here. My GDL course-mate, who writes a blog for Lawyer2B, was ill with a fever, and I said I’d step in to help out with her latest piece – an interview with Christopher Grey QC, one of the country’s most famous barristers. Why was I so nervous?
Entering Gray's Inn Chambers, I was struck by the beautiful furnishings of the interior, the wallpaper’s Laura Ashley pattern blazing a mark on my soul that immediately etched into a permanent scar as the view from the far window caught my gaze. “What gardens!” I sighed to myself.
Then I spotted the watercolours – a series of glorious depictions of Gray’s Inn gardens through the seasons.
“The winter scene is my favourite,” said a husky baritone that came from behind me. Startled, I spun around.
An LPC graduate has admitted stealing from John Lewis via a fake refund scam, just months after a trainee solicitor was found guilty of trying to defraud the retailer by similar means.
On Friday, Peterborough Magistrates Court heard how Victoria Lawson stole more than £8,000 while working Saturdays in the lingerie department of John Lewis' Queensgate Shopping Centre branch – a part-time position she held in addition to her paralegal job at a Lincoln law firm and a voluntary role providing unpaid legal advice to vulnerable people in London.
The crime recalls that committed by Cardiff trainee solicitor Hayley Davies, who was given 250 hours unpaid community work in April and told she’ll never work in the legal profession again, after unsuccessfully trying to claim fake refunds from John Lewis as a customer.